Get the word out on your business with smart PR

I was out with a friend some time ago and we were discussing one of my favourite topics – food – and a new outlet in town. “If it wasn’t mentioned in the newspaper, I wouldn’t have known about it,” she told me.

I agree. PR is one way to get people to know about your business fast. Those who know me well know I am an advocate of a good PR plan versus advertising – and this is because advertising is the easy option. Anyone can advertise if they have a budget, but securing good coverage from credible journalists whose opinions people value and are influenced by, that has a greater effect.

As a communications consultant one of the many services people ask me for is how to get PR coverage for their business or events. “It’s really not my thing and it’s extremely hard to get PR to cover my start-up business,” mentioned one client. Before I even responded, her excuses piled up and she went on to say: “I don’t have the network that you have and they would probably listen to you more than me.”

While my contacts list may be longer because of the nature of my work, it does not mean start-up entrepreneurs with limited budgets and big goals cannot receive the PR coverage they desire.

Five years ago I launched a small clothing line and I wanted everyone in the region to know about it. I knew I had to reach out to journalists. Had I stayed put and expected an interested journalist to pick up my story I may have lost out. While I might have received good coverage, waiting around to find out was not an effective strategy so I took matters into my own hands, reaching out to the media to ensure they noticed me.

Social media makes it very easy for us to find journalists and talk to them directly. Some also have their email addresses included in their profile. I connected with the journalists of the publications I wanted to target. Building a rapport before pitching your story also helps. You could start by retweeting or reposting articles of theirs that interest you.

What I also found useful was attending networking events related to my field where I also met a lot of media personalities and got to know them better. Some of them even ended up becoming good friends of mine.

After building an initial relationship or reaching out to them via social media, you should then approach via email. Pitch your story to the journalist, and give them a differentiating factor. What makes your product special? What is interesting about your start-up? How does your business change your community/country/world? Keep your emails short and on point. Newspapers and magazines receive numerous press releases and stories daily.

Draft a one-page press release that introduces your business, and your story behind it. While PR agencies would be of great help, if you are on a strict budget there are numerous press release samples online that you can look at to see how to structure yours to look professional.

I also encourage start-up entrepreneurs to reach out to their local media before approaching regional or international media agencies. Approach local newspapers, magazines, and perhaps television and/or radio stations. You could then use that coverage to build your credibility and include it in your portfolio when you reach out to international newswires or publications.

It is important not to be discouraged when you do not receive the desired response. In fact, it may take multiple pitches to get a result. It took me a while; I had to approach one magazine two or three times before I received positive feedback. But make sure to space those pitches few weeks apart so that you don’t appear like a spammer.

To help you track multiple approaches to numerous media, create a spreadsheet or word document to list the media you have sent releases or pitches to and update it whenever an organisation responds. That way you know who to follow up with.

If you are truly passionate about your business and have a story to share about your product or service, then invest some time to pitch your story to the media. It may take a while for them to respond, but get it right and they eventually will. Do not be discouraged.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati writer and communications consultant based in Abu Dhabi. Twitter: @manar_alhinai

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